Bêche-de-mer is an edible sea creature used to make soup. These primitive sea creatures are a popular food in several Asian cultures, especially Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cuisines. During the colonial period of Queensland’s history, Aboriginals were employed to harvest the animals at low tide amongst the coral reefs of Torres Strait and the Great Barrier Reef.
Many hands were required to hunt the exposed reefs and shoals, to wade the rock pools and dive the shallow waters of the fringing reefs. After a day of harvesting the animals, the work parties would return to the employer’s bêche-de-mer station, located on the nearest island, and begin the equally labour-intensive process of bringing the product to a marketable condition so that it might be sold in Hong Kong.
These island work camps or “sit-down country” proved to be locations of dissatisfaction where the Aboriginal workforce would, it appears, acutely experience or develop an intense feeling of isolation and disgruntlement through pining and fretting for their tribal country.
Consequently, the imperative to return to their tribal haunts and habitats, drove them on occasion to steal vessels and even to murder their overseers.
Employing Aboriginals or Binghis, as they were known, proved to be a challenging task knowing that their unpredictability might at any time lead to an outburst of violence, which would not only terminate the contract of labour but also the life of the employer.